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December 6th, 2007:

Smoking Costs Over 6.5% Of National Income To Nations

6 Dec, 2007, 1138 hrs IST, PTI – The Economic Times

NEW YORK: Love for nicotine is weighing heavily on developing nations with top ten smoker countries losing more than $30 billion annually which is more than 6.5 per cent of their gross national income (GNI).

The top ten smokers countries, identified by Forbes magazine include Kenya, Turkey, Namibia, Yemen, Guinea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Mongolia, Nauru and Sao Tome and Principe.

Thanks to celebrity activism and widespread media attention, the magazine notes, HIV, malaria and starvation are well-known diseases of the third world. But there’s another resource-draining plague afflicting these countries – smoking.

While the smoking population is half what it was a generation ago in the US and other industrialised nations, with only one in five using tobacco, it’s different in Africa and East Asia, where time stands still when it comes to cigarettes, it says.

Smoking rates of 40 per cent or more of the population are common in these regions and medical services are limited.

In Turkey, for example, 44 per cent of its 71.5 million population smokes, draining USD 22.4 billion annually which accounts for 5.8 per cent of its GNI of 384.3 billion dollars.

Around 45 per cent of Yemen’s population smokes costing $1 billion to its economy annually and accounts for 6.2 per cent of GNI.

Societal costs in those countries, Forbes says, can’t be calculated the same way they would be in the US, where most studies measure how much smokers burden taxpayers with extra medicare and medicaid payments.

For poor countries, there is no medicare-like programme to fund. Nor is there enough data about the economic impact of other diseases to make real comparisons.

Tom Glynn, Director of International Care Control for the American Cancer Society has been quoted as saying. “In Africa, these health care systems don’t exist, at least not in the form we’re used to,” Only Kenya, he says of Africa’s low income nations, has a medical care system that reasonably resembles that of the western world.

Most studies conclude a cigarette costs 10 minutes of life, so a pack-a-day smoker (20 cigarettes a day) loses 13.9 per cent of a year to the habit over the long haul, the magazine notes.

In Namibia, where half of the country’s two million citizens smoke, the average income is about $3,230 a year, according to the World Bank.

The habit drains about USD 448.61 per year in lost income. Multiplied by just over 1 million smokers, it adds up to $461 million in income losses nationwide, or 6.9 per cent of the country’s $6.6 million total.

The average lifespan in Namibia is 47, meaning that many people are losing a lot of prime earning years. And while smoking is hardly the only reason–low income nations have many variables affecting life expectancy–the habit has always been picked up most heavily by the less well-to-do, adding to the health and earning problems even more, it adds.

Guinea, Kenya, Namibia and Yemen, which together average $1,245 in gross national income per capita, are all among the 10 heaviest smoking countries in the world.

The Gross National Income in Nauru, which tops the list, is $5,000 per capita, of which a smoker can expect to lose an average of $694 over his working life.

Over the full population, the national annual income of $67.6 million would be $5.1 million or 7.5 per cent higher if the 54 per cent of the citizens who smoke didn’t lose a portion of their earning years.